Cal Poly president suspends Greek Life indefinitely

Posted at 4:36 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 19:36:11-04

Cal Poly suspended indefinitely the activities of fraternities and sororities on Tuesday, according to a letter from President Jeffrey Armstrong sent to students, faculty and staff:

Dear Campus Community:

As I begin this note, I struggle to convey the many emotions I have felt in my heart these past few days.  Words cannot begin to explain how gut-wrenching it has been for me to witness the hurt so many have felt and continue to feel regarding the Lambda Chi Alpha incident.  And yet I know the discomfort I sit with cannot compare with what so many of our students, faculty and staff of color feel.  Their pain extends far beyond this one incident.  This incident is another reminder of the deep, historic and systemic inequities – including acts of racism – they have had to live with and endure on a day-to-day basis.  To our underrepresented students, please know that I carefully consider and understand this fact – as best I can through the lens of my identity.  I am committed to helping others with my identity understand your struggles and pain, make meaningful changes, and do better for you.

Students want action, and I heard this message very clearly during last week’s town hall discussion.  Students also asked me to directly address the disciplinary measures that can be taken against the individuals involved and to discuss specific details about the work we have done and are doing to foster and support greater diversity and inclusion on campus.  I will respond to all of these questions and concerns in this letter.

As many are aware, Lambda Chi Alpha was suspended for a minimum of a year.  After learning this morning about another incident of racial profiling and cultural appropriation that occurred at Sigma Nu six weeks ago, I am announcing today an indefinite suspension of all Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council fraternities and sororities.  I understand this impacts Greek Life organizations that have been operating responsibly and with integrity.  However, Greek Life is a privilege at this university and until all fraternities and sororities are conducting themselves in a manner that is respectful of all students – as well as holding each other accountable – they will not have a place at Cal Poly.

We want our Greek Life community to be a model for the rest of the nation.  If Greek Life is to remain at Cal Poly, these students must re-invent their organizations and activities so they add value to our campus community and foster a culture of inclusion instead of undermining it.  

We are also seeking to meet with our underrepresented students to address their concerns and discuss the actions we are taking to support them and diversity and inclusion on our campus.  In addition, there are additional ideas that students are asking for that we believe can have a positive impact on our campus culture and that we intend to implement.  We are eager to discuss these ideas and how we will incorporate them. 

To help facilitate constructive dialogue around these ideas and issues, we are hiring an independent African-American diversity and inclusion specialist, Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.  She will work with our administration, faculty and staff, and students to help us better understand the concerns and perspectives of the underrepresented members of our community and assist us in positively influencing our campus climate and culture.

Moving forward, we will also be requiring implicit bias training for all hiring committees, MPP and Confidential positions.  We cannot require this training for faculty and staff, as they are represented employees, but we are strongly encouraging it. 

Students asked me to detail the specific actions we have taken to create a more diverse and inclusive campus.  Rather than go into specifics here, I have included below this letter detailed information about our diversity and inclusion initiatives.  The list is not exhaustive, but it provides a summary of the work we have done, are doing and will continue to do.  To ensure students can see and keep track of our work, we will publish the list on the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion website and keep it updated.

We have made great progress, but our work continues. When I joined this campus in 2011, 63 percent of our student body was Caucasian.  Today, Cal Poly is more diverse than it ever has been, with a student body that is under 55 percent Caucasian.  Applications from underrepresented minorities for fall 2018 were more than double the number for fall 2008.  Things are moving in the right direction, but we clearly have more to do.  Cal Poly’s faculty, staff and students should reflect the diversity of the state of California in every facet – gender, race, sexual orientation, class, ideology, ethnicity and more.  Until that happens, we have not finished our work.

Finally, I want to address the question of discipline for the students involved.  I have to start by saying I abhor and denounce racist speech and actions – they are inconsistent with my personal values and those of Cal Poly.  I wish we could forbid them from our campus and ensure they are never again expressed, but that is not realistic. 

While this may anger and frustrate many, the laws governing constitutional rights to free speech are unambiguous and unequivocal.  The First Amendment protects the free speech of everyone on our campus, and the university cannot sanction any campus community member or visitor who is legally expressing their views – even if we as a university find those views to be disgusting, racist, sexist, homophobic, or in any other way contradict our values. There are times when values conflict – when we are torn between a duty to oppose hate and a duty to protect free speech.  As individuals, each of us can choose which value to put first, but as a state university, the law makes that choice for us.  We cannot ban hurtful speech and expression on campus; we can only overcome it.

Part of the solution is to make our voices of acceptance so loud and our efforts toward inclusion so pervasive that there can be no questioning Cal Poly’s stance of dignity and respect for all members of our community.

We hope and strive for a day when our campus no longer experiences actions that hurt or intimidate members of our community.  This requires the ongoing and collective effort of every single student, faculty member, staff member, administrator, and alumni community member to take responsibility for upholding our values and keeping one another accountable through educational and constructive action.  I especially want to emphasize that it is not the burden of the groups who are the targets of hurtful actions to solve this problem or to keep the issue before our collective attention.  These are the very members of our family who have had to endure systemic inequities throughout their lives.  To our students who have been fortunate enough not to experience racism and hate throughout their lives, I ask you to honestly and deeply consider the perspectives of those who have.  Again, I urge you to join me in making inclusion and diversity a reality for every member of our campus.

Together we will move forward and achieve this goal.  And we won’t stop trying until we do – it is my priority and promise to the campus community as president of Cal Poly.


Jeffrey D. Armstrong

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